The Rev. Robert P. Travis
15th Sunday after Pentecost Sermon – 9:00am Chapel of St. John the Divine, Saunderstown RI
RCL Year C Proper 17 8/28/2016
Scripture Text: Proverbs 25:6-7
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14
The Rector’s wife at the church
I served in first about 15 years ago,
Once told me.
Rob, don’t pray for humility.
She said, “I did once,
And found that I got humiliated,
Constantly for the next three months!
I learned some humility,
But it wasn’t fun.”
Certainly not all of the lessons God teaches us,
Even the ones we ask for,
Are fun, or even pleasant.
But they are shaping us to be better and better.
For that is a position that the Lord took before us.
Again because of the Gospel passage,
That was selected for us,
Long before I was called here,
It seems providential that
I get a chance to preach on Humility.
There is no better way to discuss it,
Than to begin with humility in myself,
And so I want to tell you all,
As openly as I can,
That I am sorry for hurting the feelings,
Of the people who were hurt,
By the words I chose in my last sermon.
It was not my intention to hurt anyone’s feelings,
But to teach a difficult lesson,
I was given to teach,
And I made a mistake in the way I chose to teach it.
The way I chose to confront it headlong
I think in all the personal grief
I’m more reactive these days
Than I usually am.
Isn’t that often the case when we’re grieving,
Or hurting within?
And so I have made a mistake,
By entering the same kind of error,
That I was criticizing.
I stand before you humiliated,
By my own error.
And I ask for your forgiveness.
But the humility that Jesus is talking,
About today, is a different sort of humility.
It is more addressed to those,
Who were jockeying to get the best
Seats at a party,
The places of highest honor.
And Jesus is reminding
Of their own teachings,
Which we read in proverbs.
“Don’t put yourself forward…
Or stand in the place of the great,
For it is better to be told,
“Come up here,”
Than to be put lower…”
But the unspoken question of Jesus’ parable,
Seems to be,
what if the host does not invite you to a higher place?
Then you must accept the place of true humility.
In a way, that is the place I have found myself
Here in Rhode Island.
And in some ways I think my personal path,
Which started years ago,
Mirrors some of the Chapel’s path,
Which also started years ago.
I am told it is often the case,
With clergy who are called to a particular place.
That the clergy are going through similar
Things to what the congregation goes through,
So there is an opportunity to be together,
Through that specific aspect of life.
In the interest of being vulnerable,
coming from a place of humility with you,
I want to share some of my path with you.
I need you to know that I came to serve Jesus here
Because I felt a call from God.
But if you asked me, which some here did,
Why come to Rhode Island?
The reason in my mind was first for Jackie’s sake,
And secondly for our children.
To bring my family back together,
After it had basically fallen apart.
I had tried for a long time,
With every ounce of energy that I had
To keep our struggling marriage together.
While we were separated,
I really hoped that in taking a position,
In Jackie’s home state,
Where she said she longed to come back to
during our whole marriage,
That our relationship could be mended.
So I took a much more humble position,
Than others I was up for.
To come and try to bring two little parishes,
Back from a long period of decline,
In a famously difficult diocese.
I was truly hoping from a professional standpoint,
That God was about to work a miracle,
And that as I took a humble seat in this diocese,
In churches that didn’t look very viable on paper
For full-time ministry,
God would work things out
And this taking of a humble position,
this would be the beginning of being asked to move up,
In the church world.
That may not happen.
If this partnership does not work out,
For the chapel,
I don’t know how good my prospects,
Of future service in the church will be.
In my marriage,
I tried for a long time,
With every ounce of energy that I had,
to hold us together,
For years, for the sake of our children
And my vows.
I was getting worn out.
People close to me kept telling me,
I couldn’t fix the marriage on my own.
When she did decide to return,
I thought sure that meant we could be reconciled.
But after a few months,
And new uncomfortable truths coming to light,
My heart was broken all over again,
As I acquiesced to her desire to divorce.
It’s humiliating when one has given everything
To make a dream work,
Only to find out that it is not enough.
I feel broken.
Compounding the disappointment,
With my failure to make my marriage work,
The unexpected loss of my mother to cancer,
In just four months from her diagnosis last October,
Sent me into a place
That I was wholly unfamiliar with.
I have come to see that no matter how old you are,
Losing your mother is a life-changing,
So this has been a time of what feels like
Steady decline, humility,
And brokenness for me.
When I was on a retreat in the winter,
And I heard the monks chant, from the psalms
“A broken and contrite heart, O Lord,
You will not despise.”
My eyes streamed with tears.
I entered the brokenness,
And I experienced the tears
As the presence of the Lord,
For he was with me in the brokenness.
Similarly, this chapel has been in steady decline,
For nearly a decade,
Yes, back in the 1970’s this little summer chapel
was lifted up to parish status.
And even then it took the humble
Position of keeping the name Chapel,
In its transition to full-parish status.
But after a few decades of working hard
To serve this community in Christ’s name,
This chapel faced its near closure,
Just a couple of years ago.
You’ve been doing the best you can,
And sometimes finding that is not enough.
You’ve been experiencing brokenness.
During the search,
When the diocese revealed
That it might be easier for this parish
To go to mission status for a time.
Chapel leadership was unwilling
To take that, perhaps further humility.
So possibly some are still waiting,
In a position of brokenness,
To see what higher position
God will call it to, as a full-parish.
We’ve both been waiting,
And working hard,
Sometimes completely on our own,
To be recognized for the good places we are.
And wondering when that recognition would come,
Either by people in the community,
Filling the pews of this special place,
Or by my heart being full of love in a happy marriage.
These are uncomfortable positions to be in
For all of us.
And surely, some have decided
Not to stick it out, but to leave for
More successful places.
But what if that goal of humility,
To be raised up to a higher place
is not what this is about?
Maybe the goal of taking the lower place,
Is not to wait,
Until one is moved up to the higher place,
But to find the joy in being in the lower place.
Maybe the joy in being in the lower place,
Is to be found in compassion
For the people who are around us,
The companionship we share in humility.
Humility is the position Jesus took for our sakes,
And he showed us by being so humble
To leave the throne of grace,
To become one of us,
And suffer with us.
That there is redemption
And love in that experience of humility.
Jesus shares with us when we’re experiencing it.
So to take a position of true humility,
For its own sake,
Not one that tries to be humble,
So that one will be praised later,
Is to take part in the Love that Jesus had for us.
When we enter the brokenness,
Rather than denying it,
Or running away from it,
But in the silence of prayer stay present with it,
Even if it hurts,
We open ourselves to the healing presence
We, you and I,
Have been given the opportunity
To walk through this challenging place together,
And together with our Lord.
Will we stand together and take part
In the humble Love that Jesus has for us?
I surely hope we will.